This story is part of a series that explores growing health trends that were shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Will these trends stay or go away in the post-pandemic era?
- Medical spas and wellness resorts are marketing packaged treatments to COVID long-haulers.
- Experts say spa treatments may offer relaxation but they aren't a proven cure for long COVID symptoms.
- Wellness tourism is projected to have accelerated growth in the next five years because of increasing health consciousness.
In the wake of Hulu's release of Nine Perfect Strangers, a miniseries that features an unusual wellness getaway, spa retreats may be somewhat on trend this fall.
Various wellness retreats and medical spas around the globe are specifically marketing packages to COVID long-haulers. Some centers feature treatments as common as meditation and massage, while others have wilder claims like providing a “protective intestinal shield.”
Some of these spa treatments may offer relaxation as they would for the general population, but experts say to exercise caution when considering a visit.
“Consumers must appreciate that spas are a business and seek to generate profits without guarantee of treatment of many long-COVID symptoms,” Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, professor of public health at New Mexico State University, tells Verywell. “I also suspect that this could be another gimmick.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines post-COVID conditions as ongoing, returning, or new health issues lasting four or more weeks after COVID-19 infection.1
These conditions—such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and trouble concentrating—encompass a potential 200-plus symptoms, according to research published in the journal E Clinical Medicine.2
A recent study found that about 36% of COVID-19 survivors had one or more long-COVID symptoms lasting three to six months post-diagnosis. 3 But with more people afflicted with ongoing symptoms, spas and wellness retreats have taken the opportunity to offer entire packages claiming to relieve long COVID.
For example, SHA Wellness Clinic—with locations in Spain, Mexico, and United Arab Emirates—offers a seven-day “Post COVID Programme.” The center claims to provide an assessment by a specialist in internal medicine and a series of diagnostic tests followed by “treatments to address and alleviate the symptoms associated with each long-term effect.”4
Park Igls in Austria offers “Fit After COVID,” which, along with “fortifying infusions” offers “detoxifying liver compresses.” Its website says the program includes "special diagnostic and therapeutic modules that are designed to thoroughly stabilize the body and treat all the symptoms and long-term effects.”5
Do Wellness Spas Really Help With Long COVID?
While researchers are still trying to understand long COVID, will wellness resorts offer any real benefits for people who struggle with post-COVID recovery?
“We don’t know much about long COVID—definition, assessments, diagnostic criteria, etc.,” Khubchandani says. “It’s an evolving sequel for infected individuals. So no one can guarantee spas will help.”
But that doesn’t mean wellness retreats have to be off the table. “If at all there is a benefit, it could be related to stress management," Khubchandani says. "For these benefits, one doesn’t have to go to a spa, and the benefits could be a placebo effect or distraction from being distressed and isolated at home.”
He notes that a healthier diet, an optimal sleep routine, and engaging in mindfulness movement—all things one might enjoy at a spa—could give a wellness boost to anyone.
Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, co-founder and chief medical officer at TeleMed2U, says that most of the spa services do not align with the western medicine practice of establishing "a pathophysiological mechanism" along with randomized trials to prove the clinical value of the treatments.
However, he does agree that therapies featuring a mind-body connection, such as yoga, meditation, breath work, massage, and more, might be beneficial.
“As I practice longer, grow older, and as this pandemic continues to wage war on humanity,” Siddiqui tells Verywell. “I cannot dismiss any treatment modality that does not have an overt negative impact or harm on the body.”
Post-Pandemic Forecast for Wellness Tourism
Even if not for long COVID treatment, wellness tourism is projected to have accelerated growth in the next five years thanks to increasing health consciousness.6
For working professionals, therapeutic experiences like a thermal spring spa or a resort spa may help reduce stress and anxiety. Some resorts have been targeting high-income remote workers with the concept of a "wellness sabbatical," which allows people to relax in a resort with high-speed internet—There's no need to unplug.
If you're choosing a wellness retreat or spa for a getaway, Khubchandani suggests doing some research before booking. If you're looking into medical spas to help alleviate your conditions, it's good to ask questions about their licenses, official evaluation of their work, and vaccination requirements, he adds.
Khubchandani raises additional safety concerns for people dealing with long COVID or other chronic illness, who might face more complications at a retreat.
“It is not advisable to travel to many countries as they grapple with high COVID burden and may not be able to cater if something wrong happens to a spa service seeker,” he says. “What if you have stroke or heart attack after COVID infection while living in a spa? Who is liable?”
For COVID long-haulers, he suggests an alternative route to wellness spas. “I would encourage individuals to be patient, seek professional care, get diagnostic tests, and stay vigilant about worsening symptoms of long COVID,” he says. “Enrolling at a research center or seeking care from a research or teaching medical university or hospital is the safest bet. And you have individuals who will follow-up and be responsible.”
What This Means For You
If you have long-COVID symptoms, experts say spa treatments aren’t a proven cure. For symptom evaluation and treatment, you should seek professional medical care. However, spa treatments, like guided meditation or massage, may offer stress relief and relaxation if desired. Experts recommend researching a spa’s credentials before booking.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.